“A Fort Worth, Texas Kind of Christmas”


When I first published this story, readers asked me if the characters were real, or did any of it actually happen. Our neighbors, the Misters were real folks and became our neighborhood mentors. Leonards’s Department Store Toyland in downtown Fort Worth was a sight to behold, and the attempted flocking and ruination of our Christmas tree is true. My father was able to negotiate peace with my mother, and my uncle delivered a new tree, so Christmas was saved. A flocked tree never adorned our living room, but we did buy an aluminum tree with a rotating color wheel. Years later, in the early sixties, I used that rotating wheel as part of a hokey light show for our rock band.

A personal recount of my childhood Christmas memories.

Photo by: Elf -O-Mat Studios

Riding a ceiling-mounted “Rocket Train” to nowhere around the basement of a department store doesn’t seem like a Christmas thing, but that’s what thousands of other Texas kids and I did every year in the 1950s.

Leonard Brothers Department Store occupied two square blocks of downtown Fort Worth real estate and was known as the Southwest’s Macy’s. They offered everything the big shot stores in the East carried, and then, hundreds of items no retailer in their right mind would consider.

If you had a mind to, one could purchase a full-length mink coat with optional mink mittens, the latest women’s high-fashion clothing line from Paris France, an Italian cut-crystal vile of Elizabeth Taylors spit, James Dean’s signature hair tonic, Rock Hudson’s autographed wedding photos, a housebroken Llama, an aluminum fishing boat and motor, a new car, a pole barn, a nice two-story craftsman home “build it yourself kit” delivered to your lot, chickens, barb wire, hay, horses and cows, a 30-30 Winchester rifle, a 40 caliber autographed General George Custer Colt pistol, a bottle of good hootch and a Ford tractor. That’s about as Texas as it gets.

The Christmas season in downtown Fort Worth was internationally recognized for its innovative and wonderful decorations. The righteous city fathers figured the best way to outdo Dallas, a full-time effort, was to line every building with white lights from top to bottom and install large glowing decorations on every lamp pole, street light, and building façade available. If that didn’t make you “ooooh and ahhhh,” then you needed to go home and hide in a closet.

A week, or so, after Thanksgiving, my parents would take my sister and me downtown to see the decorations and visit the Leonard Brothers Department Store. Santa just happened to be in their basement taking advanced verbal orders from every crumb cruncher that could climb the stairs and plop on his lap.

My sister, in between screams and crying fits, always asked for the latest doll. She was scared senseless of “HO-HO,” but she somehow managed to spit out her order. Like clockwork, every year, I asked for a Daisy BB Gun with a year’s supply of stainless silver ammo ( for killing werewolves), a full-size Elliot Ness operable Thompson Sub Machine Gun, or an Army surplus Bazooka with real rockets and a long, razor-sharp Bowie knife encased in a fringed leather holster. It was a 1950s boy thing; weapons were what we longed for. How else could we defeat Santa Anna at the Alamo or win World War II, again? Our neighborhood may have sported the best-supplied “kid army” on the planet, and jolly old Santa was our secret arms dealer; parents non-the wiser. I finally got the BB Gun, but Santy was wise enough to not bring the other request.

Walking down the stairs to the store’s basement was the thrill I waited for all year. There, hanging above my head, was the beautiful red and silver tinseled sign, “Toy Land,” kid nirvana, and the Holy Grail all in one room. The smell of burned popcorn and stale chocolate candy wafted up the stairs, and I could hear the cheesy Christmas choir music and the sound the Rocket Train made as it glided along the ceiling-mounted rails. I almost pissed off my jeans.

Hundreds, if not thousands of parents jostled down isles of toys, pushing, grabbing, and snarling like a pack of wild dogs fighting for that last toy; the holiday spirit and common courtesy were alive and well. The queue of kids for the Rocket Train snaked through the basement like a soup line.

There, sitting on his mini-mountain top perch, sat old red-suited Santa Claus and his elfin apprentices, herding kids to his lap at break-neck speed. Each child got about fifteen seconds, a black and white photograph, and then it was off the lap and down the steps. Kids were fast in those days; we memorized and practiced our list weeks before our visit for maximum impact. “Ho-Ho” had better be writing this stuff down. Kids don’t forget, squat.

Two Santa visits, four Rocket Train rides, and three popcorn bags later, our family unit departed Leonard’s for the new and improved “Leonard’s Christmas Tree Land,” located across the street from the main building. Thanks to the demolition of several winos-infested abandoned buildings, the new lot was now the size of Rhode Island and held enough trees for every person and their dog in Texas.

Thousands, if not millions of fresh-cut trees awaited our choosing. Father, always the cheapskate, chose a sensible tree; not too big, not too small, yet full and fluffy with a lovely piney aroma. My sister and I pointed and danced like fools for the “pink flocked” tree in the tent, which cost the equivalent of a week’s salary. My parents enjoyed our cute antics. The sensible tree was secured to the top of our Nash Rambler station wagon, and we are homeward bound.

Pulling into our driveway, it was impossible to miss our neighbor’s extravagant holiday display. We had been away from home for 6 hours and returned to a full-blown holiday extravaganza that made our modest home look like a tobacco road sharecroppers shack.

Our next-door neighbors, Mr. Mister and Mrs. Mister were the neighborhood gossip fodder. The couple moved from Southern California for his job. He, an aircraft-design engineer, and she, a former gopher girl at Paramount Studios. The Misters reeked new-found money and didn’t mind flaunting it. They drove tiny Italian sports cars and hired a guy to mow their lawn. His wife, Mrs. Mister, always had a Pall Mall ciggie in one hand and a frosty cocktail in the other. Father said she looked like a pretty Hollywood lady named Jane Mansfield, but Mother said she resembled a “gimlet-assed dime-store chippy.” I got the impression that the Misters were quite popular in the neighborhood.

Their Christmas display was pure Cecil B. DeMille. A life-size plywood sleigh, with Santa and his reindeer, covered the Mister’s roof, and 20 or more automated Elves and various holiday characters greeted passersby. Twinkling lights covered every bush and plant in the yard, and a large machine spat out thousands of bubbles that floated through the neighborhood. This was far more than Fort Worth was ready for.

The kill shot was their enormous picture window that showcased a ceiling-high blue flocked tree bathed in color-changing lights. There, framed in the glow of their yuletide decor, sat Mr. and Mrs. Mister with their two poodles, Fred and Ginger, perched on their expensive modern sofa, sipping vermouth martinis like Hollywood royalty. This display of pompacious decadence didn’t go unnoticed by my parents.

Father hauled our puny tree into the living room and began unpacking lights for the decorating that would happen tomorrow evening. Mother hurried my sister and me off to bed. Visions of spying Elves, sugar plum pudding, and dangerous weapons danced in my head; Christmas was upon us.

Sometime after 10 PM, Father got hungry. Searching for sandwich fixings in the kitchen, he found a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Then he found a fresh half gallon of Egg-Nog, which of course, he enjoyed with the bourbon. While searching for bread to make the ham sandwich, he found two “Lux Laundry Soap Flake” boxes, with a dish towel in each one. Then by chance, he discovered the food coloring. This gave him an idea for our sad little tree.

I awoke with a start. The sun was shining on my face, which meant I was late for school. I ran into the living room and was stopped in my tracks.

Our formally green tree was now flocked in thick pink snow, as were the curtains, the fireplace mantel, two chairs, the coffee table, and my father, who lay on the couch, passed out, with a half-eaten ham sandwich on his chest. My Mother sat a few feet away, sipping her coffee and smoking a Winston; my Louisville slugger lay on her lap. I was reluctant to approach her, but I had to know.

I timidly put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Mom, is Dad going to be alright?” She took a sip of coffee and a drag from her ciggie and said, “well, for right now, he will be, but after he wakes up, who knows.”

When Baseball Was A Kids Game


The padlock on the gate to the baseball diamond would have taken a welding torch to remove, and the metal sign attached to the fence above spelled doom for our summer of pickup baseball games. The sign read, “The Forest Park Baseball Facility is closed to public play. Only organized teams will have use of the diamonds. Call for times and additional rules. JE-74428

 What is this? Our neighborhood team has been playing on these two fields since we were six, roughly 1956 until now. This dirt and grass are hallowed ground, and we had laid claim to it years ago. This was our land and we will fight for it. Damn the Parks and Recreation Department; a bunch of fat old men sitting behind desks.

After a brief discussion, we agreed on, and did what any nine or ten-year-old pack of boys would do; we climbed the fence and started our game.

 Thirty minutes into our play, two Parks and Recreation men chased us off the field. We didn’t take them seriously until a Police car showed up. The officer was friendly but told us if we did this again, he would haul us downtown, fingerprint us and take a nice picture for the newspaper.; we were gone in a flash.

My mother, upon hearing my sad story, which included real tears and wailing, and the possibility that I would be under her feet every day for three months, drove to the Parks and Recreation building and came home with their list of rules. We were desperate, but not as much as she and the other mothers in our neighborhood.

To play baseball, now known as Little League, we need an organized team, a coach, an assistant coach, proper uniforms, and certified safety equipment. The baseball committee will schedule all practices and games with no exceptions. Unfortunately, our neighborhood band of brothers was screwed. Our dad’s worked, and our mothers weren’t about to coach a baseball team, so we went to our mentor and Svengali for guidance, my neighbor, Mr. Mister. He had all the answers.

Mr. Mister read the document and winced, “Looks like they got you by the gonads, boys. We had Little League in California. It wasn’t bad because it evened out the teams by age. I coached a few of the units myself.” Ha! Our problem was solved. Mr. Mister could be our coach. He told us to sit under the Mimosa tree and disappeared into his house. Ten minutes later, he and Mrs. Mister came out with a pitcher of Kool-Aid and a large plate of cookies.

“Here are the rules, fellas,” he said between bites of an oatmeal cookie. “I work at Carswell and don’t get off until 3:00. Mrs. Mister will be your assistant coach and run the show until I get to the ball diamonds. Fred and Ginger, our two Poodles, will be your mascots; no wiggle room on that one.”

He saw the shock on our faces. “Don’t worry, boys; she played in the Air Force women’s league during the war and coached her team to win two championships. She can out-run, out-pitch, and out-hit any of you and has forgotten more about baseball than you mound rats will ever know. Take it or leave it.” We took it.

Mr. Mister found a gold mine of baseball equipment stored on the base. Five years ago, the officers had tried to start a league for their kids, but the brats lost interest. So, as usual with the government, they ordered triple what was needed. Multiple boxes of Rawlings baseballs, shoes with metal cleats, uniforms, caps, and a box of assorted gloves. It was a treasure trove from baseball heaven. The uniforms had the name “Jets” across the front, and the caps sported a USAF insignia. We were hot crap on a china plate. The Air Force was our sponsor, which kept us at arm’s length for their protection.

Our first practice was a rousing success. Mrs. Mister had us shagging balls from every part of the outfield. Holding the bat with one hand, she could put a ball anywhere she wanted with pinpoint accuracy. She corrected some of the boys batting stance and grip and taught Freckled Face Bean how to catch a fly ball like a pro. The team on the adjoining diamond looked like idiots compared to us.

Mr. Mister showed up and immediately took our two pitchers, Skipper and Georgie, to a corner of the outfield and started reworking their pitching technique.

This was the big league, and we became rather full of ourselves within an hour. Mrs. Mister sensed our overstuffed self-evaluation and made us run 20 laps around the field to bring us back to reality. She advised us as we lay on the grass, wheezing and on the verge of death. “This is Little League baseball, and you are nine -year old boys; this isn’t the big leagues, so get over yourselves” She knew how to bust our bubble.   

In June, we won all but two games and were at the top of the heap. Mr. Mister had turned Skipper and Georgie into pitching machines.

Mrs. Mister let it slip one day that her husband used to throw for UCLA back in his college days, something he had failed to tell us, boys.

The gang of hoodlum players from Poly grade school gave us the most trouble. “The Pirates,” and the skull and crossbones were sewn into their jersey. They looked and carried themselves as a group of hard-assed boys from the bowery; their name was a perfect fit. More than a few of the 10-year-old boys smoked ciggies and a few carried switchblades.

Their coach was a chubby sleazy guy that constantly had a cigar in his mouth. He also processed the vocabulary of a one-eyed rummy Pirate. The only thing missing was the peg leg and the Parrot on his shoulder. The boys had been taught the fine arts of cheating and could pull it off because we had one referee, and he was behind home plate.

The first time we played the Pirates, the referee ejected their leading pitcher because of a layer of vaseline under the visor of his cap. The second pitcher had 3-in-1 motor oil on his rag in his back pocket. The third was because the bats they were using had been drilled and filled with pine tar, and the infielders had filed their metal spiked to needles, guaranteed to give any of our boys a nasty injury. Nine and ten-year-old kids don’t think this stuff up. Their coach was a world-class mobster, making the entire team an accomplice. We felt terrible for most of the boys; all they wanted was to play ball, and they got stuck with a little Al Capone for a manager because of their school district. The team was banished from playing for 3 games.

Mr. Mister, our coach, was also an inventor and a world-class engineer that designed jet fighters. He also sent his wife’s two poodles, Fred and Ginger, into the stratosphere with a homemade backyard rocket, so he knew his groceries. He noticed our bats were too long, too heavy, and out of balance for our size. We carried an assortment of old bats from Rawlings, Wilson, and Louisville Sluggers. So he set to work on building the better little league bat.

The folks at Louisville Slugger said he could change the balance, handle and head weight as long as the bat didn’t exceed the approved lengths or carried inserts of any kind to change the weighting.

Mr. Mister sent a redesign for approval and a fat check for $50 per bat. Five bats would arrive if Louisville Sluggers could have them within a week. Finally, we all agreed “The Jets” were about to change little-league baseball.

The new bats arrived the day before our big game with our new nemesis, the “Aces,” the second group of ‘hard guys’ from the Crozier tech area. They were supposed to be nine and ten-year-olds, but a few of them were already shaving and sporting tattoos.

The “Jets” could feel the difference in their new bat’s balance and swings. So Mr. Mister said to line up the wood-burned star towards the top of the bat facing the pitcher; that sweet spot would send that white ball screaming.

The first three batters for the Jets struck out. After that, Ace’s pitcher threw hard and used a slider and a mean curve. He was a long tall knuckle dragging kid.

When the Jets took the field,  Georgie let the Aces get three men on base, two walks, and a bounced line drive off the second baseman. A kid named “Brutus” drilled one over left field and emptied the bases. So the Aces are up by 4. The jets came into the dugout hangdog and hopeless. Freckled Face Bean, in center field, had dropped the ball and then kicked it another 30 feet, trying to retrieve it. Mrs. Mister let him have it with both guns, which were big ones. She was pissed.  

I got a base hit to second. Willy got one to second, which advanced me to third. “Brutus” walked Georgie; the bases were total, and the game was tied. Now the dilemma. Our worst batter, Freckled Face Bean, was next in the rotation. Mrs. Mister pulled him aside for a heart-to-heart and a big hug. He was going for it. The last thing she told him was, “use the sweet spot.”

First pitch and Freckled hit the sweet spot sending the ball over the fence, bouncing onto the street and into the woods. The game was now tied.

Bottom of the ninth, one Jet is on base, and Skipper steps up to the plate. Second swing, the ball soars over the fence into the woods. The ‘Jets win.

We finished the season by playing the ‘Aces’ for the city championship. By that time, the boys in the league were afraid of us. A newspaper clipping of our team and our small trophy is somewhere in a box I hope to find. It was the best year of baseball in my life.

Now we have high-living billionaires playing a kid’s game. It’s all for money and not an ounce for the fun of it.

Happy Trails Till We Meet Again, But Only For A Little While


Photo by; Gabby Hayes

Tomorrow morning at approximately 7:15 AM, one of the two surgeons assigned to my medical predicament will be slicing into my stomach on his way to my spinal column. This has been a while coming, and alas, the highly anticipated moment has arrived. I have total faith in both surgeons since they are from foreign countries, attended multiple the bet medical schools, and are highly rated in their field.

The first surgeon, (the general surgeon,) and the stomach expert showed me a beautiful 4K video of the actual operation. Stunning color with sharp close-up photography of what one’s insides actually look like. They don’t use scalpels nowadays, but tiny light sabers similar to the ones used in Star Wars. Funny that his nurse is named Leia and the examination room I was in was labeled Exam R2.

Cutting through the viscera and old muscles, the soft pliable pinkish and rose-tinted innards, pulling back guts, tendons, and vital organs, blood veins pulsing with every beat of my 72-year-old heart, tons of escaping blood, and then driving a stainless steel wedge in between my L5 and S1 disk, that is no longer functional and are bone on bone and constantly fighting about who gets to cause me the most pain. He did mention, in passing, that if a blood vessel or artery burst he would be there to repair it, if possible. But, if I do pass on to the “other side” I wouldn’t feel a thing since I will already be halfway there. I told him “I would rather not wake up dead.” He thought that was witty, and giggled a bit.

He assured me the hardware and the tools are made by Craftsman and have a lifetime warranty from Lowes. I exhaled in comfort knowing that bit of information. He also adores Craftsman tools, so we talked a bit about home improvement. Seems he is remodeling his ranch house in Weatherford and forgot to support the main beam which allowed the den to collapse, resulting in the home being razed. Oops!

He congratulated me for not fainting since 99 percent of his patients do when viewing the film. I gave the presentation a 4 popcorn box rating and continued on to the next surgeon’s office.

My second surgeon, the spinal expert is rated so highly in his field, that he is considered a revered legend. The medical people don’t use his real name, but in the circle of surgeons, he’s called “The Spine Man.” It’s all rather James Bondish.

He’s repaired numerous high-profile and talented sports figures including Dac and Tony. It’s said that the first surgeon in his family tree corrected Qusimoto’s condition after the famous Notre Dame debacle, but that’s part of the legend I assume.

He also uses Craftsman tools and parts and showed me a brief presentation on how he will slice me in three or more places and install stainless plates, screws, rods, and spacers into my spinal column around the spacer wedge assisted by the spinal surgeon. They don’t use real bone for splicing anymore, but bone pieces are taken from recent and highly rated cadavers. He assured me not to worry, the cadaver looked a bit like me and didn’t object to the donation. That’s a good thing, I don’t want to wake up to ” It’s alive!” screaming in the operating room.

The question of years of practice came up and he told me he got his start at ten years old repairing mopeds and motors so he gained expertise early on with repositioning wiring harness, to accommodate nuts, bolts, and screws. Another good thing to know.

I will likely not be able to write on my blog since I will be as doped up as a San Francisco street person for a few days, then in excruciating pain which will require more drugs. I will not be in any state of mind to write about subjects that will surely offend every one of my readers and friends. My wife says I cannot have my laptop until I am reasonably sane again.

All kidding aside, I have complete faith in my surgeon’s skill and the care of the nurses and staff at Medical City Fort Worth. After all, it’s God’s gifted hands working through these two blessed surgeons.

Let’s hope all ends well and I’ll see you on down the trail in a short while. Happy Trails until we meet again.

In Search Of My Family History; Didn’t My Mother Own A Pen and A Sheet Of Paper?


Left foreground: Terry The Terrier, Uncle Jack, My Grandmother, My Grandfather, and my Aunt Norma

I am dismayed that the numerous members of my father and mother’s families didn’t have the foresight to record their family history for future generations. So there we were, a passel of kids that would grow up to have our own passel of children, but not a paragraph or a sentence was penned for historical value. For all we knew, the entire gang of us were adopted from the Masonic Home.

A note in an old bible or a scribble on the back of an old picture. Who is the old farm wife holding a baby goat in front of a ramshackle barn in 1935? She may as well have been Ma Joad.

Ancestry has been no help, I know where my father’s family came from; England, Ireland, and Scotland; via ships with vast yards of sails, they made landfall in New York, kissed the Statue of Liberty, and then on to Pennsylvania, and points west these were men and women of Celtic origin, who could handle a sword and drank Jameson Irish Whiskey instead of water. They were the refugees of the potato famine and the Catholic-Protestant conflict that still rages today.

My mother’s family is vague, shrouded in indigenous Indian mythical mystery. Relatives who grew up on the Cherokee Indian Reservations, also known as The Indian Nation in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

These folks lived in Buffalo skin teepees and log cabins and hunted for their food, and there are rumors they killed more than a few white settlers. My grandmother had a large mass of human hair she claimed was a scalp her father took during a raiding party; she would bring it out at Christmas to add drama to the children’s holiday.

From what I’ve been told, my great-grandmother had a serious “thang” with the violent but educated Cherokee Chief Quannah Parker, and that “thang” is still a family mystery. Still, my grandmother looked like him, so the family story calls us relations. There may have been more than holding hands in the moonlight on the banks of the Canadian River.

Belle Starr, the infamous outlaw gal, is another relation on my mother’s side. My grandmother said she never intentionally shot anyone but did shoot her husband’s pinky toe off when he wouldn’t help dry the supper dishes Dime Novels made a fortune off of her antics.

Belle was a larger-than-life fixture residing in the old Fort Worth district known as “Hell’s Half Acre.” Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place were her drinking partners, and it’s rumored that she could out-shoot Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, who also had a “thang” for Belle. The famous quick draw Sherriff Jim Coulter was puppy-love sick for her, but he knew she could likely out-draw him, so he loved her from afar.

A famous uncle also worked as a US Marshall out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and rode with the legendary black marshall, Bass Reeves. Bass handled a Colt 44 as gracefully as a forkful of steak and taters. Unfortunately, he had to replace the handles on his pistols twice after he ran out of room for the notches related to the count of bandits he had plugged. The uncle in question was likely the model for the character July Johnson in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Lonesome Dove.” I’m waiting for confirmation that I may be related to Will Rogers, Sasquatch, Blue Duck, and Amelia Earhart.

I was a teenager when I heard one of the better stories from within the family. My mother’s brother’s wife shot and “more than killed” their only daughter’s mean-spirited husband during an “Old Crow” inspired confrontation of which there were many. The old gal shot her son-in-law three times in the chest with a 38 Police Special and then once more in the head, just to assure he wouldn’t get up. She got off in self-defense. However, the thoroughly dead fellow was unarmed and stupid drunk.

The famous weapon hung on the wall in a framed case, still loaded with the two remaining bullets. Family badges of honor come in all forms.

For me, time is of the essence because it’s running out. I hope to complete some form of family history for my grandchildren by Christmas. It may not be pretty, but it will be a good read.

A Special Rant From The Cactus Patch


Good Lord in Heaven, the news flashed a moment ago that Biden is sending the oil from our national reserves to China instead of using it to lower the cost at the pump.

“Just Go Buy That Electric Car,” I ask you, what kind of man, much less a president does something like this? Perhaps because he is secure in China’s back pocket because of his sons’ dirty dealings, from which he undoubtedly benefited? Maybe dementia has altered his state of reality and he is of the mind of a child? Doe’s the Democratic Party not have a clear-thinking member that opposes the ruination of this country? All valid questions, and I am but one of the millions with like thoughts.

” Silence Is Not Golden,” although the Tremeloes had a great hit with that term. Why has the Republican Party not offered answers to their constituents? Where are the press conferences and full-page newspaper ads? The gonads of McConnell, Medows and a dozen other so-called leaders are safe in a drawer in their bedroom credenza. Most likely next to their useless pricks, which renders them, useless Eunuchs. Our saving grace may be some of the firebrand female senators that pack a pistol on each hip and mean business.

How does the majority of America receive its news? Good old NBC Lester Holt, the metrosexual young man on ABC, and that green-eyed red-headed pronoun devil on CBS, an avowed conservative Christian hater, although her family all served in the military. She is a contradiction.

There is Fox and Newsmax for conservatives, then the rest of us peons watch the three-letter networks or Google, or Yahoo, or the hundreds of leftist sites that populate the net. It’s an orchestrated effort to feed the population a constant flow of misinformation. Biden’s almost cute little Nazi misinformation Frau didn’t last a full week. She was yet another of his appointments with no experience in anything except producing sing-song Tik Tok videos. To date, AOC is the only one to successfully pull it off, only because her voting base in her hood is as moronic as she is.

Who is the wizard behind the green curtain? Soros, Biden, Pelosi? The Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man? More than likely it is a combination of Obama, Hillary, Eric Holder, and Susan Rice, all with direct lines to the Biden residence. Scoff if you may, but I might be right, based on what I have read in and between the lines. Of all the experts in written media, Victor Davis Hansen may be the most accurate. His assessments and predictions are spot on and should keep us awake at night.

” Come And Take It,” is the flag waved by the outnumbered Texans during the battle of Gonzolaz against the Mexican army. Our illustrious pontificating governor should learn a thing or two from our history, starting with that flag. So the DOJ is filing suit against Texas declaring our border an invasion from a foreign power. It is exactly that and more. Let Merrick Garland and his lackeys try and stop us. They are chickenshit at best. Mexico’s government shrugs their shoulders, “no english” they say. The hordes keep marching to the castle walls with no end in sight. Abbott had a good idea when he held up the trucks at the border, he should reinstate that law. A large chunk of Mexico’s economy is ” Western Union” money from illegals in our country. Halt that and see how fast President Pedro does the sideways shuffle and puts on the brakes. How about our National Guard with a shoot-to-kill order on anyone that resembles a Cartel or drug mule? Maybe some well-placed Texas militia in the scrub brush? That sounds drastic and cruel, but we are eons past the point of civility. This is a war against our country. As in Washington, under the current administration of our once proud state of Texas, the sons of the Alamo have been silenced. It’s heartbreaking.

“Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?” The sixties group “The Barbarians” had it right over 50 years ago. A tongue-in-cheek jab at our parent’s generation of intolerance. It was a catchy tune that if revived today, would likely become a breakthrough hit. If a boy wants to dress up and play Girlie-Girl and a girl wants to dress up and play Manley-Man, then do it. Don’t expect special treatment or rights from the rest of us, except maybe a butt whooping once in a while. We all played cowboys and Indians back in the 50s, and none of us grew up to be Roy Rogers or Tonto; well maybe a few of my friends did. My childhood friend Billy Roy grew up to be the Texas version of Pretty Boy Floyd and spent his entire life on the dope farm in West Fort Worth. I also had a cousin that dressed like a woman and robbed a Piggley Wiggley, but he got off after pleading insanity. The judge sent him to live in Dallas…nuff said.

Remembering the 4th of July, 1957


The whirling of the push mower blades sings their song of torment as I struggle to advance the heavy beast forward. I miss cutting the grass by two days; now, it’s akin to whacking my way through a South American jungle. I’m eight years old, and it’s the 4th of July, 1957.

Later this afternoon, friends and relatives will arrive for a backyard cookout and fireworks at dusk. There is a watermelon packed in an ice-filled tub. Cold beer and soft drinks fill another. Both tubs are sitting in the shade of our backyard Mimosa tree. My father’s beloved Leonard Brothers all-steel charcoal grill sits on the driveway, loaded with briquettes.  

Many of the relatives are on my father’s “shit list,” but being the nice fellow, he extends the invitation on this day and the Christmas holidays. They always come, and the reason for their banishment soon rears its ugly head. Beer gives them the strength to make a beautiful ass of themselves. I’m a kid and could care less. I want to play with dangerous fireworks and blow things up.

People arrive around four. A few cousins close to my age make the party tolerable. My tomboy cousin Ginger brings her bow and target arrows. She wastes no time shooting my cousin Jok in his left buttock. My father removes the arrow, and a band-aid dresses the wound. Kids were tough back then. A speeding bullet is the only thing that might stop us. We move on to firecrackers, cherry bombs, and sparklers.

Burgers are served along with “tater salad” and watermelon. Pearl beer gives my father’s uncle Orum the ability to talk like Will Rogers. His home-spun recounts of past family gatherings captivate the adults. Without the lubrication of beer, he is as humorless as a cardboard box. Cousin Ginger finds her bow and arrows and sends one through the bedroom window glass. She gets a well-deserved butt whooping. It’s not often I see a girl get a butt busting. She does the one-arm dance as her mother delivers the blows. Cool.

I destroy every ant mound in our alley with Black Cat firecrackers and send a tin can into the stratosphere with a Cherry Bomb. Cousin Jok sits a cherry bomb on top of the front tire of his older brother’s new MG convertible to test the velocity of the explosion. The firework blows an outward dent in the fender. Jok is a doomed kid when he gets home.

Darkness arrives, and we swirl sparklers in figure-eight patterns. Sticks of metal burning at 3,000 degrees. Kids holding a welding torch; what could go wrong?

Ten o’clock arrives, and I’m lying in bed after my bath. The soft whir of my bedroom swamp cooler lulls me into La La Land. The adults are still in the backyard. I hear their laughter and catch a few words of some dirty jokes.

Drowsiness comes; sleep is but a minute away; then I hear my mother singing God Bless America, and the others join in. It feels good to be a kid on the 4th of July.

Which Came First? The Writer or the Author?


A while back, an obnoxious blogger that fancied herself a serious author said that writers are not authors, and real authors are those that have been published and cut their teeth in academia, meaning a teacher or a professor of sorts. The rest of the poor souls plodded on through pages of typos and third-rate editing. I hope Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Capote don’t become too riled over her observation. I know in my heart, those men could give a flying shit.

Being the smart-ass that my mother raised well, I challenged the blogger on her assessment of the current literary scene and its “wink-wink” secret membership.

I knew she was a teacher right away because the following lecture and browbeating reminded me of high school. Much high-handed rhetoric and pontification without explaining anything. Sound familiar?

My measured response was that you must first be a writer to become an author. A writer is anyone that puts to paper a story of fact or fiction. It matters not if anyone ever reads your effort; it’s done and sealed. If your writing makes it to a publishing house or a website, you may call yourself an author, but you are still a writer. Nothing changes but a definition and perhaps a fat check.

My first writing was around ten years old and was on a Big Chief tablet. I was working my way to being the second coming of my beloved Mark Twain.

My uplifting teacher at the time had no problem telling me I would likely become a writer. Of what, I asked? She said maybe a book or a novel or a newspaperman; she thought I had a knack for the genre. She did encourage me to learn typing, which I did on a 1930s-era Underwood that occupied my parent’s dining room table. I was the only kid in our neighborhood that knew typing. My friends were google-eyed envious as if I had broken the enigma code or figured out the Orphan Annie decoder ring. I did gloat a bit, but not too much.

So, at 72 years old, I consider myself a writer; A hundred-plus short stories and interviews later speak of my efforts.

I have, over the years, been published a few times; Interviews about the rock scene in the 60s and early country music, so even though I received little to no money, I could, if I wished to, call myself an author. But it’s all a wordplay around egos. So, until I can come up with something as serious as Thomas Wolfe, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, or my beloved Mark Twain, I will remain a humble writer.

“Weather Days and Weather Nights”


A few nights back, I was awakened by bright static flashes against my eyelids. Lightening from afar brings a storm.

I lay in my bed, eyes now open for most of an hour, cataloging the most intense flashes through the window curtains, waiting for the following thunder to announce the wind and rain. The anticipation of a storm is pure dope for a weather nerd. I’ve been addicted for most of my life.

The television weather folk had been hawking this storm for days prior. Warnings, interviews with people on the street, getting every drop of drama out of their forecast. The cute weatherwomen and stern weathermen called for Apocalyptic conditions favorable for tornadoes and various end times hi-jinx. This would be no more than a typical spring supercell thunderstorm. Texans take their weather as seriously as the Alamo, Willie Nelson, and BBQ.

It’s a well-known semi-historical fact that Colonel William Barrett Travis predicted the cold and rainy weather during the siege of the Alamo. General Santa Anna, relying on his hungover weathermen, expected spring break conditions in San Antonio, and didn’t dress accordingly.

My first solid memory of bad weather happened when my grandmother carried me into her storm cellar as a vicious thunderstorm attacked the family farm; I was four years old. Every summer after that, there were numerous trips to the safety of that dank dirt storm cellar. Two cots, a pile of quilts, and a kerosene lamp were enough to see us through a siege. Shelves of canned fruit and vegetables lined the walls. Winters food pantry for when the land is at rest and for us to dine if the storm lasted more than a day.

If you are a farmer in Texas, the weather “is your life.” It will make or break your crop season with no warnings or apologies.

My Grandfather was a typical old-school pioneer farmer that possessed an active and painful weather bone in his left leg and a working man’s knowledge of the stratosphere. My grandmother was equally blessed with a pinky toe that swelled when a storm was brewing. Together, not much got past the two.

Grandmother would stare at a tiny cloud in a pure blue sky and remark, ” it’s gonna come up a cloud tonight.” She was rarely wrong.

During my summer visits to the farm, against my young will, I was dragged by my Grandfather to the domino parlor daily and subjected to hours of bullshit and weather talk from the old farmers in Santa Anna, Texas.

Old men in straw hats, bib overalls, and a cheek full of Redman tobacco ruled the world in those times. It was all about the weather and when will it come, how bad will it be, and how much rain could be expected? I usually fell asleep with drool running down my cheek after an hour. Then, it was back to the farm while my grandmother limped around the house because her weather toe was swollen. Good Lord. The family was a meteorological wreck.

Thank God, the family gene skipped my sister and me, so we depend on our local televisions weather personalities.

Swimming With Jesus In A Cement Pond


With the world in hellish turmoil, with no credible end of the torture in sight, a Christian person would think that this would be a perfect time for the Lord God to make an appearance, or at the least, throw us a bone. I would be satisfied with a fireworks display or something on television, but God doesn’t work that way; it appears he likes to keep us on the hook. Again, it’s a biblical thing.

My first remembered experience with religion was in my sixth year. A Fort Worth boy, dragged to the Poly Baptist Church to witness the near-drowning of my young father while being Baptized by a zealous preacher named Reverand Toby.

Someone in my family, an aunt or a cousin or all members thereof, thought that father’s soul needed saving, or at the least, a near-drowning to ensure his path to Heaven would be an honest one. I suspect it was his mother. She was a championship sinner with no way to redemption, so sacrificing her only son to Baptism might also gain her entry to God’s domain as a parental guest. Quite inventive she was. I also suspect that the bottles of hooch and the 38 special in her traveling suitcase would also be overlooked as she accompanied him through the pearly gates.

The Sunday of the Baptism was as hot as I can remember. The small church, a wooden frame affair, was surrounded by trees, so no breeze entered. Religion and suffering are one and the same. July in Texas is considered the perfect month for all the above. It’s a preview of Hell to come. Something to remember the next time one thinks about committing many deadly sins.

There I sat next to my mother, my less than a year old sister on her lap. My clothing was sweat-soaked, and I could have wet myself and not have known it. The summer heat radiated from the floor to the bottom of the wooden pew. Hell was just below us, just in case we wained from the word being preached, and for a moment lost our grip on believing; Satan could reach up and drag us down. It was all very convenient. I had no concept of sin or what it took to reach the depths of Hell. Of course, kids don’t bother with such nonsense.

An hour of Preacher Toby pacing the floor from wall to wall. The chorus of big-haired women behind him, punctuating his performance with Amen’s and Haliluahs at the appropriate times. The pulpit held the preachers’ Bible; it rested there, of no use to him. He didn’t need no leather-bound Bible; he knew everything required to scare the liver out of everyone in that church.

The sermon concluded, and the Baptismal commenced. Father was the last on the list.

Mother had dressed him in a new white shirt and black tie. He resembled the television star Steve Allen. The shirt was starched to the point of cardboard, allowing him minimal movement. One would think if a person was to be dunked in a tank of water, a swimming suit or at the least, a robe would be appropriate wear. But, nope, Baptist like it real; fully dressed in your best clothes, shoes, watch, and wallet included.

Father’s name was called. Entering the pulpit from behind a velvet curtain, he climbed into the Baptising tank. I found it odd that a church would have a small swimming pool at the alter. A waist-deep concrete tub full of unpurified water. How would one know that the occupants didn’t release a stream of pee into the sacred water in their moment of personal repentance? It’s a natural response akin to pissing in a swimming pool or a lake. Father stood in the holy waters awaiting his deliverance. He carried the look of a trapped man; no escape route was available, so his fate was sealed.

Preacher Toby wasted no time. He asked Father if he was ready to accept Jesus and be bathed in the Holy waters. Father mumbled a few words, and the preacher pushed him back into the waters of the sacred Jordan. Minuets passed along with lovely words and passages, and still, Father was immersed in the Holy waters. A hand, then an arm, then two reached up, flailing about. Finally, a leg broke the surface, and a shoe flew off. Still, Preacher Toby continued his blessing.

Looking back, it was common knowledge that father was a country musician and made his living playing in the beer joints along Jacksboro Highway. Preacher Toby figured since my father was a fully certified sinner, an extra dose of saving was needed.

With no assistance from Preacher Toby, my father made it to the surface with seconds to spare. Sputtering and coughing, on the verge of death, he rolled over the side of the cement pond and lurched toward the side door of the church. Holding my baby sister, my mother grabbed me by my bony arm, and we made a hasty beeline to the car. Father was there waiting. Dripping wet and defeated, he looked like death on a china plate. Mother drove us home.

I’m not sure what this recount has to do with the current state of our world, but I felt the need to share it.

Religion is a slippery slope for most folks. You either believe, or you don’t; there is no maybe or middle ground. But, the forces of good are believed to be greater than those of evil; it’s written in the book. So, we need an intervention or a sign from God that one evil man will not dictate the end. But, if that is the plan, let it be quickly done and with a gracious smile.

Baseball, Balloon Tires and Cap Pistols


I first met Billy Roy on a Monday morning in September of 1957 when Mrs. Edwards, our third-grade teacher, introduced him to our class. He stood next to her, arms crossed with a sour-ball look on his face.

I knew this kid was trouble. He hadn’t done a thing to anyone yet, but he had that weaselly look about him; beady eyes, no chin, and partially bucked front teeth and a bad haircut, giving him the appearance of a hillbilly.

Our teacher says he is from Hamburg, Germany, and his father is an officer out at Carswell Air Force Base. Billy Roy, she says, is a German and an American citizen but doesn’t speak good English quite yet. So then, what is he, an American boy or a Nazi transplant? We kids knew all about those guys, having watched World War II movies on channel 11 and playing war with our BB guns. We always whopped the Nazis and the Jap’s. We took care of the Mexicans too when we defended the Alamo.

As luck would have it, Billy Roy now lives in my neighborhood, three houses down from my best buddy, Skipper, so after school, the gang calls an emergency meeting to figure out how to deal with this infiltrator.

It’s decided to give the “new kid” a chance to prove his salt; he would be allowed to hang with us until deemed worthy or fell flat on his face.

Our parents got word of our secret plan and told us, “we had better be nice to Billy Roy, or we would wind up at the “Dope Farm.” Someone ratted us out; most likely, it was Georgie; he’s afraid of everything and can’t keep a secret. He is also a known titty-baby.

“The Dope Farm” is a juvenile detention institution that our parents use as a threat when we act up. It keeps us in line. The stories about the place give us nightmares; it’s Sing-Sing for children. One of my older cousins spent some time there and later when he was supposedly rehabilitated, he robbed a Piggly Wiggly at gunpoint dressed as a woman.

Saturday came, our day to ride our bikes to Forest Park diamonds for pick-up baseball games. Our group of eight depart from Skipper’s house at 8:30 am. Billy Roy is standing on the sidewalk as we approach his house.

Skipper stops and asks Billy Roy if he has a bike and a glove; in broken English, he states he has neither of those items.

Georgie, the titty-baby, then says in a snarky tone, “if you don’t have a bike and don’t play baseball, you can’t be part of our gang.” The word’s spoken, the gauntlet laid. It looks as if Billy Roy might be out. Everyone gives him “the look” as they ride by. I feel a little bad for the kid.

Billy Roy keeps to himself during the next school week, eating his sack lunch alone and staying inside during recess. We can care less. He can’t tote his salt.

Saturday morning, 8:30 am, the same scenario. We leave Skippers’ house on bikes, heading for the ball diamonds. As we approach Billy Roys’s house, he comes flying out of his garage on a brand-spanking-new Schwinn Hornet bike. A chrome headlight and tail-light adorn the bright red and white bike—the sun’s reflection off the chrome fenders that cover the white sidewall balloon tires is blinding. Hanging on the handlebars is a new double-stitched  “Plug Redman” Rawlings baseball glove, and sitting on his little head is a genuine New York Yankees ball cap.

Skipper skids to a stop and the rest of our bunch almost wreck our bikes trying to miss him. What is going on here?

The gang is in awe and more than a tad envious. This kids’ been here two weeks, doesn’t play baseball, can’t speak English, is likely a German spy, and here he is riding the Caddillac of bikes and now sports new ball equipment. Some snot-nose in our neighborhood is as rich as King Faruk, and it isn’t us.

Skipper, the wise leader of our bunch, surveys the scene, then tells Billy Roy that he can come along with us to the baseball diamonds since he now has the required items. So he rides at the end of our pack and struggles to control his expensive bike. He crashes a few times but catches up. Unfortunately for our intern, things don’t go well at the ballpark.

After educating Billy Roy on holding and swinging a bat, he’s bonked square in the forehead with a 40 mile per hour hardball. He’s out like a corpse.

The umpire, some kid’s father, drags him over to the bleachers and pours a cup of cold water on his head. Billy Roy wakes up, staggers about for a minute, and acts as nothing happened. We are impressed, he’s tougher than we thought.

Around the fourth inning, Billy Roy tells us that he is going home. He’s a bit dizzy and wobbly after his bonk and can’t participate in the rest of the game. We get it. He departs, driving his fancy bike from curb to curb like a blind drunk.

After the game, which we won, we gather our stuff left in the dugout.

Stevie says he can’t find his Cub Scout knife. Freckled Face Bean can’t find his Roy Rogers watch, and Skippers’ decoder ring is missing. My almost new pack of Juicy Fruit is also gone. Good Lord! there’s a thief amongst us. Georgie, the titty-baby, is the likely culprit; but he says he can’t find his dental retainer, so he’s cleared. That makes Billy “the Nazi” Roy the perpetrator. There is an ass-whoopin’ brewing. With retribution in our hearts, we haul-ass to Billy’s house.

Mrs. Roy answers their door. We demand to see Billy, so she brings him to face us. He stands behind the screen door for protection. But, of course, he denies it all until Skipper tells him to step onto the porch so he can whoop him. Billy steps onto the porch, but before Skipper can get a lick in, Billy pulls a switchblade knife from his pocket. He pops the blade and waves it at Skipper. Yikes! Not only is the little Nazi a thief, but he’s also a West Side Story hoodlum. We leave the porch and the guilty Billy Roy to his young life of crime.

After the incident, Billy Roy, to us kids, is a fart in the wind.

Having ruined his reputation in our neighborhood, he starts hanging with some older hoodlum boys from across the railroad tracks; we call them “the hard guys.” We are sure they will wind up at “The Dope Farm” sooner or later, and now young Billy will join them.

A few days before Christmas vacation, Billy Roy is missing from school for almost a week. We figure he has the bird flu or polio.

The next day, a rumor around the neighborhood, and now our school is that Billy Roy and two of the “hard guys” were pinched for holding up our small neighborhood grocery store with a Mattel Fanner 50 cap pistol.

We all agreed, that the bonk from the baseball injured his kid brain and turned him into a criminal. Last we heard, Billy and the two “hard guys” were off to the “Dope Farm.”

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